Thursday, 25 February 2010

725 - Vocation

Three in one day, I know: I just wanted to add something to post 726 before I go to bed.

I wrote: "That, my dear, dear religious friends, is the Kingdom of God". And it matters to add, I think: the Kingdom of God may be much, much more than a universe of stories we can create, real life, real time, but even if it is more, it is at the very least that. And I don't see how I could ever find anything more rewarding to do than to spend the rest of my life making this known to people, so I'm happy to claim that as my vocation.

726 - Story Nations

Another day, another dispiriting prognostication from the evangelical church people I left fifteen years ago. I won't link to it: it's on Facebook. But apparently we're all going to hell in a handcart.

Why do I bother? Because it's not the world, it's not even the Christianity I recognise, that's why. I love these people. I want to shake them out of their isolationism. I don't think Christianity is about the nailing of one's life to a single story - or if it is, it's the story that there are as many stories open to us as there are, well, us. So no probs if part of the story you want for yourself is the traditional evangelical one. But equally, you might choose something completely different.

And this is where the excitement starts. Because there is a universe of stories open to us. An old Jewish proverb says God created people because he loves stories. The Gospels say there are so many stories about Jesus all the books in the world couldn't contain them. See, Jesus gets it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, especially now that the technologies are burgeoning where we can rehearse and test those stories in safe places (any such place is a church), can manipulate our identities, can recognise our common humanity in law, to stop us creating those stories real life, real time.

That, my dear, dear religious friends, is the Kingdom of God.

And kingdom is an interesting word. Nowadays, as we've experimented beyond monarchy, nation might be a better choice. Also a interesting choice, because nation-states are the means by which, in a modernist secular society, we identify our public allegiance acceptably. But we're no longer modernist, we're postmodernist, and the nation-states are crumbling. At the very least, in the developed world, we could do with finding new ways to express our identity, to replace the over-consumption of resources by which we've maintained and projected our own lifestyles, but depleted the lives of others. That's one way of putting the argument in Geoffrey Miller's book, Spent, by the way.

(And what's with the word lifestyle anyway? Like we only ever select one, to which we are then bound, till we can sustain it no longer. No character development, no plot twists: what successful story ever paces monotonously along in the same style from start to finish?)

So my proposition is that we recognise our new great resource to be the stuff of our identity, the stories we choose to inhabit, and that from now on, those nations that are richest in the world are the nations where the most various stories are told, and where the freedom to tell them is greatest.

By tell, of course, I mean live.

Here's a daydream, by way of jottings in the margins of my copy of Volume I of Christopher Partridge's great book, The Re-Enchantment of the West:

The birth of Story Nations... nations whose peoples are informed by a voluntary delight in stories and story creation; where from the abstraction of a page in a closeable book, the story is drawn into oneself - like the book people of Fahrenheit 451, but into one's very lived self and the actions therefore that one performs....

Was it ever really possible before? The sheer interaction of such stories, the possibilities inherent...? The lightness of such footfall on the Earth?

The only metanarrative one will ever need is provided by one's innate being. But it's a truism that what one needs and wants are not always the same. Why not, then, as one builds a beautiful home to live in, rather than live under canvas, or clothes oneself in the fashion of one's choice and reach, rather than drabbery, create as fulfilling a story life for oneself and yes, one's nation, as one possibly can?

727 - Iron Man

What? It's a piece of corroded metal I found on Whitley Bay beach. It's a tribute to Ted Hughes. It's art.

Friday, 19 February 2010

728 - Word Up

After reading Jay Griffiths on the essential wildness of all things, it sure is hard to resist putting her thesis into action.

So, if time is wild, and time is money, then money can be wild; money can be, say, words. And words, in turn, can be wild.

Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid sets the thought going. She's talking about the brain areas that inter-wire themselves as we learn to read: visual areas; visual association; auditory and language centres; centres for analytical and forward planning. Her suggestion is that as these link up, our cognitive abilities change, and our ways of relating to the world and to our culture with them.

In her book this is pretty much unequivocally a good thing. Hugh Brody and Jay Griffiths, who both champion the intelligence of preliterate peoples, might want to suggest that the potential that we direct towards reading is, amongst those who don't read, directed towards other, equally meaningful, ends.

I'd like to suggest that, by interrogating the nature of words and text to discover just exactly what they are, we might begin to find surprising word-forms in many places. Taking Wolf's point that our brains have changed neurologically in response to exposure to text-based cultures, there are perhaps other ways that we could encourage them to develop as we become fluent in forms championed by newer cultures.

Perhaps the essence of a word is that it is a meaningful communication. The call across a clearing from one to another, using the medium of sound-waves, explains the link between the auditory sense and our language centres. The weighting we give to our visual sense as a means of interacting with the world explains why most, but not all writing, is visible. But the question of how many senses are involved in word formation and comprehension grows rapidly more complicated.

Early texts, Wolf says, include cuneiform scratches on clay tablets, and hieroglyphs on papyrus, but also knots on Mayan rope (quipus), and script on tortoiseshell oracles. The cuneiform, knots and tortoiseshells are tactile - indeed, writing is itself a movement of the wrist. These actions, like Braille, extend the senses involved to touch and proprioception (body-sense). The same senses form the basis of sign-language, and the language of dance. Up is an orientation of the body, so up-ness can be a word. Body pressure, the application of which stills some people with autism, such that weighted blankets are common in therapy centres, is surely key to the communication of a hug. And where would meaningful communication be without the kiss, stirring visual, auditory, pressure, temperature, taste and olfactory senses? A kiss is surely a word.

If language is seen in its widest sense as an interplay of meaning, which is not limited to words on a page (or screen), then the nature of words is set free. This video challenges, and is fascinating, about the insight into language that one person's experience of autism has given her (and us). Surely there is nothing to stop a culture, and cognitive develop among the people within it, centring upon and elevating, if they choose, any given word form. Might that not take the culture into hitherto unsuspected realms of human experience, as the book has done? Might that not be the true legacy of virtual reality technologies?

And seeing every sense-meaning combination as part of a flow of communication illuminates the world of inner as well as outer experience. Dream language, with its powerful imagery and sensory stimulation, does not seem quite so alien if it is understood to be of a piece with the exchange of information we can engage in between ourselves and others during waking hours. Perhaps, latterly, these literate millenia, we've just been ignoring this daylight exchange.

Perhaps as our fluency in such exchange increases, our dream life will begin to blossom into daily activity. That might help explain why altered states of consciousness are more easily achieved in dance and music, or sports, where such language flow is already prevalent. To repeat, it may not be so much that these are exceptional states, but our natural state, which has been utterly narrowed by our focus on oral and textual exchange as the only legitimate means of information transfer. That would turn our thinking about the relative values of preliterate and modern civilisation on its head. It could give a genuine scientific basis for admitting magical thinking back into the public arena, alongside, and in engagement with, the discourse modern thought has given us.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

729 - Perfect?

There may have been a perfect life - someone who grew up without hurting his or her parents, siblings, friends, others - but the signs were never promising. Even Jesus, who, they say, self-conceived in Mary, to avoid the physicality of a conventional conception, burst out of her the usual way, which no doubt, like the more esoteric messages that came with him in the envelope, she'd held in her heart and pondered.

Say there were more like him - men and women who have been allowed to grow tall, full and unstinted, like oaks in good ground. Still, for most of us, life is about learning that isn't so. Most trees, it seems to me, grow as well as those materials they have been given allow them to be. What unfurls from the acorn takes shape in the soil and grows in wrenching disorder as much as in the order of the world it finds around it.

That, come maturity, we learn is beauty, and enough.

But what after maturity? After enlightenment, which I take to be the same thing, a zen proverb says, chop wood, carry water - just as you did before. I know this is true, but I also know that as I grew up, I hurt people. I punched my mother as I sat on her knee. I scared a young woman older than myself as I sought, self-absorbed, to define for myself the limits of what I felt might be love. A friend of hers gave me the chance to stop before the police were involved. That was the beginning of company. I am grateful to him and to her.

I suppose one has learned that, as a tree in a copse is bowed down by one tree, but supported by another, which in time, daisy-chained around the line, draws support from the wounding first, one is soothing even as one tears open; one is wheat, to quote Matthew 13, even as one is a wild weed. Therefore, in the new wood-chopping and water-carrying, I might hope to build good things alone, but at least I know I build good as I build bad.

It is time to build.

Monday, 15 February 2010

730 - Storytelling and the Natural Living Test

The test is here.

As I read it, I sense that the actions it describes pretty much form the backbone of every folktale I've ever heard told. Here, for instance, are the first eight actions (the point of the test being to note the number of occasions in the previous month you've performed them):
  • Rocked a newborn baby to sleep
  • Made up a story and told it to a child
  • Felt the sunrise warm your face
  • Satisfied a genuine hunger by eating ripe fruit
  • Satisfied a genuine thirst by drinking cool water
  • Shown courage in protecting a child from danger
  • Shown leadership and resourcefulness in an emergency
  • Shared a meal with parents, siblings, or other close relatives

And here's a tale:

Jack, Jack, born in a shack, skinny legs and crumpled back - but his mother loves him. She rocks him to sleep with tales of his father, the wild man she met by the hawthorn tree, who soothed her heart and tore it open, one and the same time. And she wakes him in sunlight, takes him down the long path to the river, where the orchards grow, and gorges him on damsons, and apples, and once in a while sloes, that so fur your tongue that it blooms like the bloom on the sloe-skins themselves, everything except the fruit of the hawthorn tree.

After feeding him, she gives him water, cupped from the river by her own hand, and as he grows, and wants more, by a wooden bowl, and bathes him, gently over his face and eyes, his back and skinny, skinny legs.

And though by now she's old, day by day he is young, until at last one day he is old enough to turn to her, and hard like boys can be, he says:

"Mu-um, I'm hungry. It's noon already and you're being so slow. Today I'll go to the river by myself."

His mother is strong, but a piece of her heart is still at that door long after he leaves the shack to go down to the water. And as he goes, he passes under the hawthorn tree, and there is a shaking and a trembling, and high in the twigs and thorns above him, there is the sound of a baby crying.

Well, Jack looks up, sharpish! and sure enough, through the pin-cushion thicket, amidst the berries, under the lunch-bright sky, he can just see the chubby pink heel of a tiny, bawling baby boy.

Jack puts down his sack and his water-bowl, and strips his coat from his back, but, though he tugs and pulls at the branches, and, never mind the scratches, hauls himself into the tree, the chubby heel, and the baby bawl, stay stubbornly out of reach. Jack scrambles back down again, puffed, and he looks up, and looks down, and across his face flickers a frown half thwarted, half already a-scheming. "I know!" he thinks, "If I can't get up, perhaps with fruit and water I can get the baby to come down!"

He leaves his jacket, and down to the river he goes, back scratched, cheeks reddened, with his bowl and his sack, a plan in mind, and a tingle with the blood on his skin.

It takes him the afternoon, for he's not strong, but by evening time he's gathered enough good apples, enough sweet damsons, even a handful of bitter sloes. He's washed them in water from the river. And every so often he's hearing the baby cry. Finally he judges he's ready. He scoops a last bowl of water from the river, and dragging the sack behind him, returns to the hawthorn tree.

So the first thing he sees is that the tree seems bigger, and the heel of the baby a little further away. And the next thing he sees is that his jacket - well, it's kind of grown full of the hawthorn twigs. A couple of thickish branches fill out the sleeves, and handfuls of berries hang from the cuffs. The jacket sways and the twigs inside are scraping the cloth. Jack puts down the water bowl, and out of the sack he rolls all the fruit, heaping it up beneath the child in the tree.

"Come down, little boy!" he calls, "Good fruit, fresh water. I can't climb up to you, so you must climb down to me." He's a bit nervous about his jacket, and the baby cries louder, which makes him feel edgy, and he thinks about going back to the house to fetch his mother, but that doesn't seem right, and the light is falling, and he's exhausted, and eventually, despite his apprehension, he thinks, "Maybe, if I just sit here quietly, the baby won't be so scared, and will come down on its own."

A little sniff. Brief struggle. Bare back on the rough bark of the hawthorn tree. Crying in the distance. Thorn-prick of fear. Memory of soft cradling. Head nodding. Sleep.

And in the night, up gets the jacket, sheath-full of the scrub of hawthorn, scratch-footed, tinder-trunked. It tilts towards Jack; it tilts towards the fruit; it tilts towards the tree. Slowly it reaches up, and it is free, on kindling legs. Now it scoops at a fruit. Then, squirrel thorn, tiny bramble squire, it steps over Jack's own legs, creeps past his back, dry-inches up the tree-trunk, through twigs to the baby. There is a moment. Then it uncurls a cuff, and on a palm of hawthorn berries, outstretched to the young child, it offers a perfect round juicy blush of an apple.

Now the baby has the apple and the tears stop. It is in the arms of the jacket of thorns. Slowly, gently, Jack's jacket climbs down the tree. No scratch on the pink heel, no cry from the child, when it is laid beside Jack, and in the morning he wakes.

I could say Jack is now straight-backed, fine, vigorous and happy, but he's still crumple-backed, and his knees remain knotted. But inside he's fine of figure, as maybe he always was. His mother rocks the child, half her torn heart for Jack, half now for this wee fellow Apple. And it seems that's a kind of duet in her, for the pain, when she wants it, is gone. There's a girl, oldest daughter of the piemaker, with an eye for Jack. And the hawthorn tree waits, with the jacket on the thornbush at its side all but worn to threads.

Friday, 12 February 2010

731 - Tough Questions

I'm returning to a book I started a year or more ago. Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf, is, in the words of its subtitle, "the story and science of the reading brain". It explores the evolutionary and educational changes our brains have undergone in order that we may be able to read text. It is a polemic too, in that it argues passionately that reading as a technology should not be undervalued or taken for granted. Not only does it allow culture to be recorded and passed on, but also explored and manipulated, which stimulates further neuronal development in the brain. It suggests that the shift to digital and image-based technology might cause the brain to develop in new and perhaps not entirely predictable ways.

That got me thinking. I'm fascinated by the process of writing, which seems to me the essence of technology, the tiniest impact someone can make on his or her environment at any given time, using the latest tools available, in order to convey the most precise meaning. Once we nudged pigment onto cave-walls; then ink onto parchment, and lead type and paper; then light onto film-stock; digital information onto computer screens, and now, even, ears onto the backs of mice, and flourescence into rabbits. I wondered, given the radical transformation reading has had on society over thousands of years, whether a similar transformation, driven by ICT, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Nanotechnology, Quantum Physics, Relativity might be starting now, and to take the thought further, just as writing and reading gave birth to great literature, these marks we make in the present might result in a whole new artform, an art, as well as a science perhaps, of identity at its most fundamental level.

The following are related thoughts I jotted in the margins of Proust and the Squid this morning. They don't flow - just a straight copy of thoughts, some wilder than others, as they arose. They widen the thoughts above further, but I don't have time to expand them tonight, so I risk sounding potty. Ce la vie. The references to washing machines and dreaming the future refer to incidents I've written about here, here, here, and here, and are what I wanted to interrogate yesterday, but have yet to do:

1. Beyond reading: that it might be possible to 'mark' oneself mentally, deliberately. To read oneself and others, and this mark to be a symbol (or symbol of a symbol? a chaotic system balanced on a chaotic system?).

2. What might such a mark look like? Must be beyond a dot on paper, though a dot could be the mark in one instance.

3. The science and art of infinite possibility, not simply an idea, but a technology. What virtuality gives us that books didn't - a gateway (the whole of virtuality is the gateway - it's not just that there are gateways in and into virtuality, but that virtuality is an arrangement of quanta which can itself begin to affect quanta, in and outside its obvious current realm).

4. If there is a beyond beyond this, I cannot imagine it (but interrogate the 'I', in case).

5. The drawing together of stars.

6. Somewhat scarily, the figure (story myth) that most embodies this technological capability for me is Doctor Who.

7. One must have a sense (sensitivity too) of multiplicity (even if one chooses a single identity) to develop this technology.

8. A technology that has no force unless it is democratic - an expression of life in all its fullness. The Kingdom of God. Moving the washing machine door. Dreaming out of time and space.

9. What does all this mean for human interaction?

10. Cancer as a signal from, eg., the future. Healing as a reply. The closer we reach the technology needed to heal/control the cancer, the closer we reach the technology needed to send it.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

732 - The Natural-Living Test

This is an exercise at the back of Geoffrey Miller's book, Spent, which I heartily recommend. I suspect the exercise has been developed by Miller, but it draws on ideas I've found in other articles and books, so much of the knowledge will be in the public domain. It's not easily traceable on Google (I've not managed, anyway). All of which, and because Miller seems a thoroughly decent chap, and because he's motivated by a desire to get the knowledge out there, and because I'm happy to remove the test if he and/or other authors wish, and because it's a brilliant tool for meditating on, and because this blog's as much an aide memoire for me as anything I expect anyone else to read, and because I want to raise a question at the end, means I'm going to stick it up here in full. Here on in, till indicated, the text is as in Spent (pp.331-2):

This quantifies how closely your life matches that of our happier ancestors. Write down honestly how many times in the past month you have had each of the experiences below:
  • Rocked a newborn baby to sleep
  • Made up a story and told it to a child
  • Felt the sunrise warm your face
  • Satisfied a genuine hunger by eating ripe fruit
  • Satisfied a genuine thirst by drinking cool water
  • Shown courage in protecting a child from danger
  • Shown leadership and resourcefulness in an emergency
  • Shared a meal with parents, siblings, or other close relatives
  • Gossiped with an old friend
  • Made a new friend
  • Made something beautiful and gave it to someone
  • Repaired something that was broken
  • Improved a skill through diligent practice
  • Learned something new about a plant or animal that lives near you
  • Changed your mind about something important on the basis of new evidence
  • Followed good advice from someone older
  • Taught a useful skill, charming art, or interesting fact to someone younger
  • Petted a furry animal such as a dog, cat or monkey
  • Worked with earth, clay, stone, wood or fiber
  • Comforted someone dying
  • Walked over a hill and across a stream
  • Identified a bird by its song
  • Played a significant role in a local ritual, festival, drama or party
  • Played a team sport
  • Made a physical effort to achieve a collective goal with others
  • Sustained silent eye contact with someone to show affection
  • Shamed someone who was behaving badly, for the greater good
  • Resolved a serious argument using humour, emotional self-control, and social empathy
  • Sang, danced, or played instruments with a group of friends
  • Made friends laugh out loud
  • Reached a world-melting mutual orgasm with a sexual partner
  • Experienced sublime beauty that made your hair stand on end
  • Experienced an oceanic sense of oneness with the cosmos that made you think, This is how church should feel
  • Applied the Golden Rule by helping someone in need
  • Warmed yourself by an open fire under stars
Now, add up all the numbers that you wrote for each item above. If your total score is lower than 100 and you do not feel as happy as you would like, write a five-hundred-word essay explaining why you expect your life to be happy or meaningful if you are not doing anything meaningful for others or feeding your brain any of the natural experiences that it evolved to value and to find meaningful.

[End of text]

My only quibble with this checklist is that whilst all these experiences do, I can see, amount to a very happy life, I'd want to see something about the experience of encountering pain, incomprehension, or the thwarting of a plan or desire. I can accept that we've evolved to cope in such situations, and even thrive, and I can also interpret some of the items on the list as if they addressed such a situation - the repair of something broken; the improvement of a skill through practice; the changing of one's mind, for example. I do, however, feel that peace in the face of rejection is a state one experiences throughout life - ultimate comfort in the face of death - and it isn't referred to here.

As I understand it, it's related to the role of the shaman, who may have had a psychotic episode precipitated by excessive openness, as suggested in Spent (pp.219-221), or who may have experienced at the limits of his or her being a light indistinguishable from eternity, or both, but who is certainly present in early hunter-gatherer communities, with something to offer. Is this simply the sense of oneness with the cosmos referred to on the list? I've experienced that, I think, but I've not yet interrogated my experiences fully. So this is where I must ask myself some tough questions, which I'll do in my next post.

And it certainly is not to detract from the great value of the Natural-Living Test as it stands.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Thursday, 4 February 2010

734 - Found Encounter

In Starbucks, Newcastle upon Tyne, across the room, a young white manager, American, head of the Newcastle branch of a successful bottom-up sales company, in meeting with a British Asian job applicant and his well-dressed father.

The father understands top-down, hierarchical companies, and starts by trying to establish what health and safety measures are present in the company, what insurance, should an angry customer assault his son.

"We're all responsible for our own actions," says the manager. He brings in his partner, who says he broke his back and was off work for two months. "I paid him, though he made no sales," the manager says, "Because I felt responsible; he's a friend; it was the right thing to do. But I don't expect you to understand the business model. My father doesn't understand. Behind my back, he tells people I run a business, but never to my face."

"But what do you want out of this? You say you're from Nigeria, but where's your... home? What do you plan to do with all the money you make?"

"I plan to retire. Early. Fifty. Live in the Bahamas. Drink Pina Colladas on the beach ... I want to know I've worked well."

The conversation lasts forty minutes, intensely. Back and forth. Two cultures negotiating, but neither giving ground. Still, neither coming to blows. The manager shakes the hand of the father, and holds his coat out for him, dressing him. The word "respect" is used. The father allows himself to be dressed.

735 - Coinage

I remember a long simile in a linguistics book linking words to coins, the syntax and semantics on one face, the phonetics on the other.

But words aren't just like coins, they are coins, I think. They take a little effort to create, share, and remember, so they're definitely work, and money is a work battery. We say they have currency, meaning both that they're presently in use, and that they're in use, in flow, in community.

Like coinage, the meaning of words is ascribed by people, and defaced by them. Parity of semantics occurs across cultures, but cannot be used unless a phonetic exchange rate is established. Or the sounds can be celebrated, like the bare weight, shape, and imprint of sestertii in the hands of a British numismatist, cross-culturally, where the meaning, te amore, is less certain.

They can be shuffled around, and each unit used in varying quantities, to sum to a larger thought. To be or not to be. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ And, by opposing, end them. Both sentences mean the same, though one hangs heavier, like a fist of shrapnel.

And one can be word-rich, which spent in story-form buys one a meal or a bed for the night or for life. People value words, like they value gold. The spending of words is a sign of generosity.

Words inspire a deep morality, though no deeper, perhaps, than a balance sheet. The grandson of a publisher, I had many, though not so much cash. At 33 I gave them away. Now they fall into my lap. But I'll die in silence.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

736 - Cafe Culture, Dance City, Newcastle

Very interesting talk at last night's Cafe Culture event, about reinvigorating society's commitment to informal education - the sort you might find in an evening class or a youth club, or simply from the guitarist you know down the street.

Chiefly memorable for me because:
1. I walked into a granite seat on the way to the meeting.
2. I grabbed a seat with no legroom or place for my oversized coat and scarf, which I shoved down the coat sleeve.
3. I bought an expensive latte and then knocked it all over the floor (see above).
4. I was joined on the row by four women who bridled when I tried to smile and make eye contact.
5. I found the handkerchief I had beautifully ensured would be in my coat pocket on the bedside cabinet, instead, when I got home, my nose having dripped through the meeting.
6. I left the meeting at the interval, not before trying to shove my arm down the sleeve with the scarf in it, and getting stuck half way, and pulling the scarf out the other end like a magician doing a rubbish trick.

If I'd stayed, maybe I'd have suggested there might be mileage in exploring the way social networks can co-ordinate informal learning, especially because my old class at primary school is getting in touch with one another, and I'm finding all kinds of things out about where they are now. It'd be great, starting from a shared educational experience, to explore the areas of life we feel we missed at eleven, and fill them in. Great research project for an educationalist. One of my fellow pupils, for example, was the son of an avante-garde proto-punk jazz musician. If I'd known such people existed then...?

Monday, 1 February 2010

737 - Nimble Jack

By way of an illustration that storying isn't just theory, today I was making my slow bear-like way up Grainger Street when an even larger man, dressed in construction gear, approaching a builder's skip, bowled in front of me, causing me to duck down and sideways to keep out of his way.

At the instant that I could have taken affront - obviously I was there; I'm sure he clocked me; was he playing status games? - the option opened to me to become, briefly, nimble Jack, weaving out of the way of a Giant. I took the option. It felt like stepping into one character, but at the same time, I had let the 'me' that was about to take affront fall away. That felt disconcerting, but the rush of being nimble Jack for a semi-second is still with me.

I don't think I've stereotyped the construction worker as a wicked giant - or myself, for that matter, as ducking and diving. Rather, it feels like for a moment, for practical purposes, I've opened a window of play, a storyspace, in which, rather than being hurt, I've retained my dignity through an agility I might not have accessed as ambling bear.

Later, I can review the situation, sensing I lost the perceptions of one aspect of me, but gained the perceptions of another. Curious though, that this other was a character offered to me in folktale form, and that I took it in a split second with a minimum of logical thinking.

738 - Storying and Trait Signaling

A longish quote, to start, from Spent, by Geoffrey Miller (2009):
Innovations in asymmetric warfare are always initially considered to be treachery and terrorism by the side that believes it is stronger according to traditional criteria. In retrospect, such tactics are inevitably reframed as natural historical progress in the efficient conduct of warfare.

Likewise, every signalling innovation in human culture is at first considered unfair and disreputable, at least by those who excelled at the previous signaling game. Medieval lords were no doubt driven nuts by the minstrels and troubadours who used musical innovations (isorhythmic motets, polyphony, even madrigals!) to seduce their wives and daughters, rather than winning them by the traditional methods (physical force, economic oppression, religious indoctrination). Elvis wasn't playing fair by wiggling his hips and sneering, and Miles Davis wasn't playing fair by being so damned cool, handsome and talented. From the viewpoint of social competitors and sexual rivals who "play fair" by getting formal educations, working full-time jobs, and paying full retail prices, any of these alternative ways of displaying one's personal traits seem like cheating. However, from the viewpoint of rational individuals seeking maximum social and sexual status at minimal cost, all these tactics were wonderfully liberating. Indeed, such signaling innovations seem to drive most of the progress in the technologies, ideas, and institutions that we call civilization.

I do think that with storying I've hit on just such an innovation. What one does is deliberately sequestrate one's identity, in the context of a given circumstance - time period, location, role, virtual reality - and proceed proactively to customise it, internally first, then, if one wishes, externally too. Role-play games allow this - perhaps most, if not all, arts do - but key is the internal action. The means by which such shaping occurs are those of traditional storytelling, turned by the teller in upon him or herself.

It certainly would not appear fair to those with traditional takes on identity that one might, by playing the role of a troll, and allowing one's seductee into one's storyspace in a character of their choosing, win their attentions, but the end result, in evolutionary terms, would be social and reproductive success. Fairness, as Geoffrey Miller suggests, need not come into it. Ideas about the multiplicity of a person's identity/ies, as explored by Rita Carter in her book of the same name, might have more to offer such a progressive artform than traditional concepts of an ultimately uniform personality.

To establish whether storying has a genuine appeal, it might be useful to investigate how effective it is at displaying personality traits that might otherwise not be signaled. The artform would be truly revolutionary if one were able to demonstrate, through an understanding of neuroplasticity, perhaps, that one was not able simply to display, but over a short or longer period, alter one's traits. In so far as, say, Christianity is about replicating in oneself the psychological and emotional traits of Jesus Christ, this is a realm already well trodden by religion, and supported by society.

I've had an inkling, and written before, how storying might give rise to issues around the civil rights one possesses over one's identity. Interestingly, perhaps, following his comments on the asymmetrical trait-signaling arms race, Geoffrey Miller explores whether it would be desirable for society to establish the psychological traits of its citizens through the gathering of data from, for example, one's relatives and neighbours; one's private email and social networking footprint; one's brain imaging or DNA testing. He concludes that, although this will become increasingly viable, its value would be suspect, because our most efficient personality detectors are those already hardwired in our brains. If storying ever did take off, however, one might expect a backlash, from traditionalists keen to protect their social and reproductive hegemony, against those enhancing themselves with a more flexible approach to personal identity. In such circumstances, the monitoring, and monochroming, of personality traits might become politically appealing.